#InnovationSeries: Technology and my radical year of freelancing

by Edwin Okolo

This feature is a part of the YNaija Innovation Special – a set of insightful stories that dig deep into the spirit of innovation, enterprise, and creativity oft-talked about but seldom told as stories in Nigerian media.

The series which kicked off with the release of The New Establishment list, our annual 50-strong list of the new school of leaders, innovators, creative and entrepreneurs, will run throughout January.

I have always known that I didn’t want to work in corporate Nigeria. As a child I was fascinated with falsetto voices and wanted to join the Opera. That dream ended when puberty broke my whistle register and turned it into a croak. Since then I have hopped from interest to interest, job to job amassing a pastiche of skills that ensure I am never without funds when I need them but cementing the fact that I’d never survive in a cubicle. It is a great privilege that thanks to technology I will never have to find out. 2016 and its economic recession was a challenge that forced me to go from passive creative to active freelancer, a huge decision here where the pressure to find job security is immense.

The last half decade has seen the idea of a virtual workspace, always available when you need it, uncluttered with paper and unfettered by physical spaces. This is truly the springboard that has allowed me and many others not fall into a panic when we lose our jobs, or get desperate to find a conventional one. Owning an office or starting a business has never been easier, creating and sustaining a brand has never been cheaper. In 2016 even when I had a steady job and when I lost that job I was steadily freelancing and creating a portfolio as a writer and designer. Here are some of the tools that have made my year of freelancing my most radical yet.

We joke that Google is going to eventually evolve into Skynet and take over the world but this year they really stepped up to the plate and hit a home run. After re-engineering their many arms into a parent company called Alphabet, they released the Google Suite. The Google Suite is a virtual network of necessary internet tools all interconnected by the Google Virtual Drive. With a word processor, calendar, conferencing applications like Google Hangouts and Google Allo Docs, spread sheets, reminders, mail and domain names and one terabyte of virtual storage. Google went from useful to invaluable for me. Especially Google Docs that allows for real-time co-editing on a document. I was able to edit for clients while they wrote their essays, saving valuable time and eliminating much of the time that we would have wasted if we had to do a traditional editing back and forth. It’s a little mindboggling, to be able to work on documents simultaneously with several people in real time anywhere in the world.

Then there was Slack. I have to admit, when I was working in a full-time job, hearing the tell-tale ding of a slack message gave me anxiety. In corporate situations Slack can quickly become a bane, but as a freelancer Slack allowed me feel fully immersed and in communication with the various individuals and businesses I worked with, without feeling overwhelmed. I had at least separate Slack communities I was a part of and an admin in one, and being able to switch between them in literal seconds and create specific private chats within them is very important when you need to keep abreast of things, don’t think I could have survived 2016 without it.

One of the biggest problems that freelancers lace is an efficient payment system. Most companies shell out a decent amount of money to create and automate payment systems for their staff but the freelancer often has to harass their employers and remind them about unpaid arrears and has to deal tranche payments that break up their income and often renders it useless. But in 2016 alone several enterprise options dedicated exclusively to independent professionals and freelancers were created by Nigerians for Nigerians. There is beta version and soon to be released Payant created by tech prodigy Aminu Bakori as part of an ecosystem of applications (including web-based O.S Cloudiora) that will make freelancing for people so easy they can work right off their low-end phones. Then there is Y-combinator backed Paystack created by Sola Akinlade which just raised one million in seed funding and is already easing difficult payments and book keeping. A marvel really when you actually take it for a spin.

And of course, the year of freelancing would have never happened without social media. As a designer, I got at least 75% of the private commissions I made in 2016 directly off Instagram Direct Messages. I got recommendations off microblogging platform Twitter, and used the numbers of Facebook to drive traffic to my personal blog and portfolio. Social media kept me visible in a way that would have cost me hundreds of thousands of Naira to do traditionally and connected me to the most niche of opportunities. Social media also allowed me run my design business without a proper framework, building much needed good will and a feedback process when a dress I made for a client turned out to not work for her body type. More than anything else, Social Media allowed me document my progress as a creative, as a designer and a writer. It was an unvarnished portfolio that potential clients could go through and make their own assumptions and when their needs aligned with my skills, hire me.

I learnt many things in my year of freelancing, but one lesson stood out. There might not be jobs, but there is always work. In that dichotomy is where the freelancer exists.

See other stories from the #InnovationSeries below:

– New Establishment: Mr. Eazi, Ire Aderinokun, Arese Ugwu, and more… Meet the class of 2017

– #InnovationSeries: Nigeria and the year of the Buzzfeed clones

– #InnovationSeries: Social media can be a tool for self-censored advocacy

– #InnovationSeries: A snapshot into the life of a tech unicorn

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